James Barnett Professor of Humanistic Anthropology Richard Sosis will be teaching a new course this fall entitled Anthropology of Jewish Cultures. The course is being developed by Professor Sosis and Assistant Professor and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights Sarah Willen, recent awardees of the course development grant offered by the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. Credits earned from the course may be applied toward the major or minor in Judaic studies.
Anthropology of Jewish Cultures (ANTH 3098) will meet this fall from 2:00-5:00 pm on Wednesdays.
About the Course:
Abraham Joshua Heschel once poetically remarked that the Bible is not human theology but rather “God’s anthropology.” God, so to speak, has not been alone in studying Jewish life. In Western culture, Judaism has been characterized by its minority, outsider, and marginal status. Not surprisingly, given anthropological interest in studying “the other,” anthropologists have produced an extensive literature aimed at understanding Judaism and Jewish experiences. The primary goals of this course will be to engage this literature by exploring the diversity of Jewish cultures and examining how influential anthropological theorists (e.g., Mary Douglas, Roy Rappaport, Alan Dundes, and Melvin Konner) have sought to explain the variation and commonalities of these cultures.
The course will place considerable emphasis on Jewish folk traditions as they’ve emerged cross-culturally and their tension with, as well as occasional acceptance by, rabbinic institutions. Moreover, anthropological efforts to document these traditions, such as Ansky’s ambitious Jewish Enthnographic Program, will be discussed. Students will be exposed to the rich ethnographic literature on Jewish cultures. These ethnographic writings will be used to explore various topics, communities, and movements within Jewish culture including: Haredim, Ethiopian Jewry, Yiddish culture in Europe and the U.S., chavurah communities, Sephardic communities in Muslim cultures, the Ba’al Teshuvah movement, women’s status within Jewish cultures, and secularization among Jewish communities.
The course will conclude by briefly examining how rabbinic writers, including Mordechai Kaplan, Neil Gillman, and Jonathan Sacks, have drawn upon anthropological data and theories to interpret Jewish teachings and provide visions for the development of Jewish life.